Showing posts with label cheap vacation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cheap vacation. Show all posts

Monday, June 1, 2015

How to Have a Frugal Family Vacation!

With summer right around the corner (only 1 more week for us!!!) we wanted to share some of our tips on how to have a frugal family vacation. Our friends and family often give us a hard time when we tell we are leaving for vacation again but we are able to take so many vacation because we usually take frugal vacations and we make them a priority. 

As new parents we suddenly felt the importance of  re-evaluating our priorities and we decided we needed to make taking family vacations a priority because those are some of our own greatest childhood memories and we want our kids to make similar memories.

Like most families we wanted to be able to take multiple vacations to spend quality family time without breaking our budget. After having our son last spring we took advantage of my maternity leave and took a three week long road trip from Michigan to Florida and Florida to Maine. Here are some tips that have worked for us.  

  1. Use a tent (not only for camping!): A good quality tent such as a Kelty has an upfront cost of $200 but will quickly pay for itself. We highly recommend an air mattress as well because it is very uncomfortable to sleep on the ground! Trust us the money is worth it to be more comfortable and will again pay for itself. Our first air mattress we really liked was a Coleman which lasted three years before it got a leak. I think the next one we are going to try is this one. Besides camping you can use a tent while on a road trip instead of staying at a cheap hotel or motel which can still cost $60/night. And your air mattress will come in handy when you have overnight guests.

(Camping in Acadia National Park, Maine)

A good quality tent is a must on a Christmas or birthday list, wedding registry, or baby registry (Thanks Rafe for one of the best wedding presents!). If you cannot afford to get a tent or do not think you will use it enough then borrow one from a friend or family. Most people are willing to share their stuff but you may have to overcome your fear or reluctance to ask!

  1. Camp at state parks: State parks usually cost $18-$35/day with an $11 passport fee for the entire year. Private sites, on the other hand, are usually $35 and up. Again, even a campsite that is $45 is better than a cheap motel for $60. We found sites as cheap as $10/night.

(Rockland, Maine)

  1. One meal a day: Limit eating out at restaurants to once a day or less by grocery shopping and bringing/making your own food. Pack food for the car ride and premake as much as possible and bring a cooler! It is easy to eat your own food for breakfast and lunch and then eat out for dinner. Or you can eat out for big lunch and healthy snacks for dinner. We love trying new or unique restaurants but usually once day is enough! This is our cooler but I wish it was a little bit bigger like this one.

While on our road trip we fell in love with shopping at Trader Joe's which unfortunately is not available where we live. We would shop every couple of days and buy oatmeal and fruit for breakfast and hummus, vegetables, salsa, avocados, and other easy items for lunch.  An easy guacamole we ate a  lot was 1/2 jar of salsa mixed with an avocado or an easy sandwich is a can of tuna or salmon mixed with an avocado. Click here for a great resource for camping tips from my friend's blog, Kitchenstewardship.

I hope your kids made wonderful memories of having a picnics like me can remember my family having picnics on the lawn in front of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island and other vacation locations.

  1. Bring a camp stove or skillet/griddle: You can reheat and make a lot of meals with a simple one burner camp stove or skillet/griddle. We even use our camp stove when we stay in hotels to reheat our soups and other pre made meals.(Disclaimer: this may be frowned upon but we have never seen any signs saying it is prohibited, so we do it, but we are not going to take responsibility if you choose to do this.)

(This one is ours but a two burner would be nice!)



(My brother uses something similar to this for his family of 9 because it is very versatile and can replace a grill, stove, etc!)

  1. Go with friends or family: This is an easy way to cut your bill in half or more by dividing the price for lodging and transportation. You can also take turns watching each other kids so you can have a date night without paying a babysitter.

(Our free tour of Cape Cod Chip Factory)

(Walking the golf course at our timeshare resort for a free color tour)

  1. Use a timeshare/vacation ownership: Timeshares can be very expensive to purchase but if you know someone who owns one they can purchase vacations for you and you can pay them back. If they are generous and have extra points that they will give you then you only have to pay a transfer fee of $150. Otherwise, you can get “Last Call” vacations for as cheap as $250/week plus the $150 transfer fee. Keep your eyes open for a future post about the pros and cons of a timeshare.

(Cocoa Beach, Florida)

  1. Use Groupon and other similar deals: Start searching a couple of months in advance and keep checking for restaurants or activities that you would like to do.  

(NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida)

  1. Use cash: Research shows that you spend less if you use real money instead of swiping a card. You’re more careful to track your purchases if you will eventually run out of cash. The only time we do not follow this rule is if we get a better deal by using our credit card such as when we get 5% back at restaurants.
    (Cape Cod, Massachusetts)

When we returned from our three week vacation we realized our three month old son had spend 1/3 of his life on vacation. It was great to spend this much time just the three of us before I had to return to work. Happy Vacationing!

Have a great day and thanks for reading. Please make sure if you've been enjoying the blog to put your email in the right column and check us out on Facebook and Twitter!

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Monday, April 27, 2015

How to save money on vacation: Why not to pay for an all-inclusive

Read about how a timeshare presentation worked for us, how we only spent $121 for food and drinks with leftovers for an entire week, and why not to pay for an all inclusive.

If you want to cut to the chase scroll to the bottom for the list of reasons not to pay for all inclusive and a list of tips for traveling to a resort.

We were recently privileged to take a family vacation to Los Cabos using our timeshare for spring break.  We were surprised when we started planning for the trip last summer that we were able to find a topical location available during the busy season using our timeshare. We didn’t care where we went as long as it was warm and we could find cheap flights. One challenge we didn’t expect was most resorts were mandatory all inclusive, but our timeshare did not cover the cost, so we would have to pay an additional fee. We found a resort that was optional all inclusive and we booked!

Fast forward 9 months we were getting really excited for our trip which was only two weeks away until we received a voicemail from RCI (our timeshare company) informing us that the resort became mandatory all inclusive and so we were now expected to pay $80/night per person for the all inclusive fees! We were not happy because we purposely choose an optional all inclusive resort and we couldn’t believe they called us 2 weeks before hand and expected us to pay the fees.

We tried contacting RCI and they said it was out of their control that the resort changed to mandatory and we would have to contact them directly. Well contacting a resort in Mexico is not the easiest thing to do. John found out we could call them using Google Hangout and it would cost 1 cent per minute but our account needed a minimum balance of $10. So we spent $10 to call Mexico just to find out that the resort changed back to optional. We were relieved, but still irritated that RCI wasn’t going to help us.

Being frugal like we are we cannot imagine paying $80/night per person for all inclusive food and drink. We know we would not be able to eat and drink $160 worth of food and drink even if we drank all day and stuffed ourselves. Now, some people will argue with us and say that you can spend that kind of money but they are calculating how much the resort charges you, not how much it actually costs. For example, they will argue that drinks are $5/each and meals easily cost $20 then if you eat three meals ($60) and drink four drinks ($20) you hit the $80 per day and you don’t have worry about it and you can eat and drink whenever and whatever you want. 

Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of all inclusive. Mostly because I love food (actually, I have to confess I am slightly addicted to food) and it is always better when you don't have to prepare it! I mean come on, what doesn’t sound appealing about eating and drinking whatever and whenever you want and not worrying about paying for it? But you are paying for it, $80 a day in our case and we were not prepared that pay that kind of money. So our plan: pack a lunch for the flight there, buy groceries and eat in our room two meals a day and eat out our third meal.

Our plan for not spending money on food at the airport worked out perfectly. We had fried egg sandwiches and fresh pineapple (made the night before) for breakfast in the car on our way to the airport and then we ate oranges, tuna avocado sandwiches, and trail mix for lunch while in our layover.

When we exited the airport the shuttle service we already had lined up had sent us a map and directions to avoid the overwhelming hustlers, but somehow we went to the wrong guy wearing an orange shirt and found ourselves agreeing to hear a timeshare presentation Monday morning. We walked away shaking our heads because we knew we just got talked into something but we couldn’t pass up the deal: all you can eat Mexican breakfast, transportation to and from the presentation, tickets to a whale watching cruise, and a bottle of tequila for a 90 minute presentation. So we decided to sacrifice 90 minutes!

By the time we arrived in Los Cabos that night we were getting hungry but since we had been up since 3am and with the time change our bodies thought it was 8pm we decided to splurge and get room service so we could stay in and left our son go to sleep. We weren’t that hungry and the prices seemed steep, so we decided to share a club sandwich and fries. Well we called room service and no one answered. So we called again and still no one answered! We started to unpack and then call and left a message. Getting more and more tired we showered and gave up and went to bed hungry.

The following morning we made a pleasant discovery. We went to the fitness center to work out and we discovered they had a bowl of fruit free for the taking. It worked out perfectly because we hadn't eaten since lunch the day before and we didn't have any of our packed food left. So our new plan for breakfast: each take two pieces of fruit after working out each morning. 

After our free breakfast we went into town for the day and explored the city, walked the pier, and went to Easter Sunday Mass.

By the time Mass was over I was starving so we settled on having the $7 lunch special we walked past on the way to mass. The special included a drink and they had chips and salsa to start. We walked away spending only $20 after a generous tip. After walking in the 90 degree weather back to the pier we shared a self serve yogurt, $4.

We took the city bus (slightly sketchy) for $1/person each way to Walmart and bought $43 of groceries. This even included beer for John that he took down to the pool instead of buying it from the resort. So if you include our bus fare we spent $47 on groceries making our total spending so far = $71.

The next morning, Monday, we went to the lobby to get a taxi to go to the timeshare presentation we had signed up at the airport but we knew something was up because the attendant left and walked in the other direction. A concierge approached us and warn us not to go. He said he would match the deal we were offered if we didn’t go the other resort and we went to their presentation instead. It made sense for us because we didn’t have to leave our resort and we would still get breakfast, whale watching, and a bottle of tequila after sacrificing 90 minutes of our time. And the best part was they didn’t have any openings for the presentation for Monday so he gave us breakfast for that day and Tuesday. So Monday and Tuesday we got FREE all you can eat Mexican breakfast and we snacked on our groceries for the rest of the day.

Now I have to admit that I was jealous of those with all inclusive when we were being sitting by the pool and the people around us were being served hand and foot with french fries, nachos, beer, cocktails, ice cream, you name it! But we were pleasantly surprised that sometimes the waiters came around with free samples that we could have. And we took advantage of the entertainment opportunities offered including the guacamole/salsa making class, martini making class, cocktail making class, and ceviche cooking class (aka FREE FOOD).

Wednesday and Thursday night we had boat tours scheduled which included all you can eat and drink so we snacked on our groceries and fruit we got from the gym on those days. To continue tracking how much we spent on food we will use half the cost of our tickets for the tours. So the first tour was FREE because we listened to the presentation and we paid $43/person for the second tour so let’s say we paid $43 for the food and drink.

To explain Friday we have to go back to the night we arrived. Remember how I said we ordered room service and it never showed. Well, we went to the front desk and explained what had happened and guess what they compensated us with?!? A free night of all inclusive! Which meant we could eat and drink anything we wanted from 6pm-1am. (Way better than the $15 club sandwich and fries we were supposed to get!) So we choose to use it Friday night as our last hurrah.

So we had Friday night planned perfectly. At 6pm we got our wristbands and went for drinks and appetizers at the outdoor fireplace by the ocean, dinner at the fancy restaurant with a salad and dessert bar, martinis at the Martini bar, dessert at the Cafe, and we finished the night with drinks at the fireplace again. Oh, I forgot to mention we got some sandwiches and coffee to go that we took back to our room and saved for the next day for the airport.

So back to the point why you shouldn’t pay for all inclusive… we spent a grand total $121 for food and drink for 8 days including the spur of the moment soft pretzel purchase I made in O’Hare Airport because we landed minutes before everything but Starbucks closed. I don’t feel too bad paying $7 for two pretzels since he threw in FREE pretzel bites since we were his last customers and it was our last chance to eat anything before we slept overnight in the airport...with a 1 year old! (which for who are wondering, turned out fine because my wonderful husband Googled “the best place to sleep in O’Hare Airport” and found us some couches that we pushed together to sleep on.

If we would have paid for all inclusive we would have paid $80/person for seven days totally= $1,120. Trust me, I can eat a lot but I could never eat or drink enough food to make that worth it. So, even though I was jealous when the waiters walked by with ice cream and french fries while people sat by the pool, it still wouldn’t be worth it (to me at least). We also have to admit that get enjoyment from trying to be frugal but we understand it is not for everyone.

Again, back to the point why you shouldn’t pay for all inclusives
  1. You will never eat or drink enough to make it worth it.
  2. It is better to go grocery shopping for two meals each day and then pay for dinner and even food by the pool and you will still be in the green.
  3. Then you don’t “waste” food you would be getting already at the resort if you go on an excursion that includes food or if you go into town for a meal.
  4. You don’t need the calories (or at least we don’t) :)

Tips for traveling to a resort
  1. Go to a timeshare presentation BUT realize that it will take an entire morning and a lot of persistence on your part to finally get out of there (be warned that some can be VERY pushy and even rude). We had the best luck getting an “offer” at the airport because then our resort matched it. Before our resort knew we already had an offer they were going to only give us 50% off excursions, weak! Then when they found out what we were going to get to see a different resort they matched it and we were able to stay at our own resort. We also think it better to see a presentation at the resort you are staying at because they are more likely to let you leave because they don’t want to piss you off if you are staying with them for the rest of the week. Final tip, take a baby! We got out of our presentation an hour before other people because he was getting fussy! So we didn’t even have argue our way out of there. Score! We recommend attending only one because then you only take one morning of your time and if you have a bad experience it is only one morning and you still have the rest of your vacation to enjoy.
  2. Think ahead and pack a lunch for the airport. Just remember that by the time your plane lands in a new country you need to have eaten any fruit, vegetables, or meat or customs will stop you.
  3. Attend some of the free entertainment opportunities they offer: I don’t think I need to explain this= FREE and they can be a lot of fun.

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